James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Video: Oilers’ Puljujarvi, Islanders’ Hamonic suffer injuries

As much as people associate the Edmonton Oilers with failure and high picks, the team also has seen many of its youngsters deal with disturbing injuries. Is Jesse Puljujarvi continuing that unsettling trend?

We’ll have to wait and see after he suffered a knee-to-knee hit from New York Islanders defenseman Dennis Seidenberg during Saturday’s game.

Seidenberg received a two-minute tripping penalty, while Puljujarvi hasn’t yet returned to action – though he’s tried – for Edmonton.

This marks the young Finn’s 10th game with the Oilers, so he’ll burn a year off of his entry-level contract even if this ends up being serious.

Update: Puljujarvi will not return to the game, and Zack Kassian is also banged up for the Oilers. Meanwhile, Travis Hamonic could be hurt for the Isles.

The Oilers ultimately won 4-3 via a shootout.

Eric Staal isn’t happy about goalie interference call


You know what’s always fun? Arguing about goalie interference calls.

(Tomas Holmstrom is glaring at us so hard right now.)

The Minnesota Wild seemed to score a tying goal in the waning minute of the third period vs. the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. Instead, Charlie Coyle‘s tally was waved off, as it was ruled that Eric Staal prevented Calvin Pickard from making the save:

Here’s the official league explanation for the call, via the NHL’s Situation Room blog.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee determined that the actions of Minnesota’s Eric Staal caused Colorado’s Erik Johnson to contact Calvin Pickard before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Pickard from doing his job. 

Staal, for one, disagrees, stating that Pickard was “way out” of the blue and in “terrible position,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo.

Ultimately, Pickard ended the game with a 32-save shutout, whether it was the right call or not.

Calvin Pickard is making a case for Avs’ starting job


For a while, it seemed like Devan Dubnyk was going to be the story of Saturday’s Colorado Avalanche – Minnesota Wild game. Instead, he lost a goalie duel to Calvin Pickard.

It’s remarkable that it all really did come down to one save. Pickard made 32 of 32 while Dubnyk stopped 31 of 32, and that was the difference in a 1-0 win for the Avalanche.

Now it brings up a question that is either already on the mind of the Avalanche, or should be soon: is Pickard actually a better option in net than Semyon Varlamov?

That’s something of a mind-blowing thought when you consider that Varlamov often propped up some terrible Avalanche defenses. No goalie faced more shots than Varlamov has since he took over in Colorado’s net in 2011-12.

Still, Jared Bednar isn’t being paid to look in the past, and more recent results make it a question worth asking.

Pickard now has three wins in as many starts. Varlamov is stuck at 2-5-0, and most troubingly, his .891 save percentage sits in “bad backup” territory.

Also, his numbers have been drifting downward every season since his impressive 2013-14 campaign (when he faced a ridiculous 2,013 and stopped 92.7 percent of them).

Yes, there’s a cruel “What have you done for me lately?” element to this, but fortunes can turn on a dime in sports.

On that note, consider this: Dubnyk has only allowed three goals total in his last four games. This run included another team record. And for that? He has two wins in those four contests.

Goaltending, everyone.

Kings get big win against Pens (not just because they finally scored)


Did the Los Angeles Kings need a win more than any other team on Thursday? That seems like a reasonable point, considering the notion that they probably needed a goal more than anyone else.

After matching a 1968-69 Kings unit that failed to score a goal in three straight games, Los Angeles managed to break through on Thursday.

To sweeten the deal, Nic Dowd‘s hard work paid off as he scored the overtime-winner in a 3-2 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins:

More tough times ahead?

Looking at the Kings’ schedule, this win carries that much more importance.

After Saturday’s home game against the Calgary Flames, they face a five-game road trip largely against Canadian teams from Nov. 8-15. On paper, you’d expect that to be a tough stretch, but who knows? The Kings are finding ways to win amid serious injury issues and Peter Budaj being their go-to goale – in 2016 – so this team is showing some serious backbone.

Of course, they’ve proven their resolve in two Stanley Cup runs, but considering the mounting number of doubters, this is the kind of stretch that could very well build that defiant streak back up again.

(Or it will just put them in a very vulnerable position.)

Matthew Tkachuk rewards Flames for keeping him in the NHL

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Did the Calgary Flames make the right choice in burning a year off of Matthew Tkachuk‘s entry-level deal? For at least one night, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Tkachuk scored two goals, including the game-winner, as the Calgary Flames beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 on Thursday night.

If you look at Tkachuk’s five points in 10 games, his start to 2016-17 isn’t that impressive. Things have really picked up in the last five games, however:

Thursday: two goals against San Jose, +2 rating
Nov. 1: no points, two shots on goal
Oct. 30: assist
Oct. 28: assist
Oct. 25: assist

With that, we’re reaching an interesting fork in the road for Son of Keith; is it possible that the Flames aren’t giving the impressive 18-year-old enough ice time?

His 16:10 of time on ice from Thursday easily marks a career-high, but perhaps that should become the norm, particularly for a team in the middle of the pack in a Pacific Division that seems ripe for the taking.

At minimum, it sounds like the Flames made the right choice in keeping Matthew Tkachuk around. At least for one night.